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Brian Mitchell of Bradford College examines the contrasting perceptions of social work in the UK and Norway, and the impact this has on the frontline in the latest edition of Sanctuary Social Work News magazine. Here’s what he has to say:




Social work in England and Wales is currently undergoing a period of unprecedented change, largely influenced and determined by an agenda sharply focused on risk and safeguarding. From an academic point of view, the reasons for this change are interesting. Professor Ray Jones (2015) argues that the media has been instrumental in creating a national dialogue concerned primarily with workers being ‘hunted' by a significant and influential ‘cluster of tabloid newspapers’. Whilst one cannot generalise, there does not appear to be a dialogue quite as ferocious relating to social work in Europe as there is here in the UK.    

Having recently visited Norway, colleagues from The Faculty of Social Care and Community Practice at Bradford College were interested in exploring the differences in the perception of safeguarding and how this has manifested itself in terms of actual practice.

In looking at Norway’s history of safeguarding, it’s clear it has a good track record of championing progressive practice. For example, in 1981, it was the first country in the world to appoint a children's ombudsman. The role was seen as incredibly forward-thinking at the time, was adopted internationally, and has now become standard across Europe. 

Since then, Norway has seen a number of changes to its welfare system to make it more service orientated and to remove some of the stigma.

Since the introduction of the Child Welfare Act 1992, there has been a resounding focus on lowering thresholds for intervention and promoting early intervention. 



There’s a strong emphasis in Norway on family-orientated evidence based programmes, including multi-systemic therapy (MST) aimed at young people themselves and parent management training (PMT). All this is underpinned by a child-centred approach which includes children and young people in decisions concerning them. There is also considerable support for care leavers too, with services provided before a child reaches 18 being maintained or substituted by other services until they reach the age of 23. 

Child and family provision in England and Wales, by contrast, are ‘categorised’ within a protection model.

As you would expect, there are some obvious similarities, as both approaches to safeguarding children are underpinned by a focus on three distinct principles reports my colleague, Professor Marit Skivenes (2014) at the University of Bergen in Norway: 
  • Safety; children have an absolute right to live in an environment free from abuse and neglect. 
  • Permanency; children need a family and a permanent place to call home. 
  • Child and family well-being; children deserve nurturing environments in which their physical, emotional, educational, and social needs are met. 
Professor Skivenes makes an interesting observation about organisations that frame their responses around a ‘child protection perspective’. This usually directs the worker to consider abuse and risk alongside blame ‘where the responsibility can be located with the parents or immediate family’, prompting an approach driven by forensic concerns. This, she argues, often leads to the removal of the child.

To discover more about how social work in Norway is driven by a ‘family service’ perspective, read pages 26-27 of the current issue of Sanctuary Social Work News

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